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The Discard Pile

You’ve fed your sourdough starter.
Now what?

Hannah Dela Cruz C’12 first encountered the
term sourdough when she was 13,
the year her family immigrated to the US from the
Philippines. But it wasn’t until 2018, having burned out of a job in public
relations, that she began playing around with a starter of her own. As she ran
up against other unfamiliar terms—autolyse, lame—she launched a
blog to work through her confusion and document her progress. By the time the
pandemic emptied baker’s yeast from supermarket shelves, she’d climbed Mount
Mother Culture just as a million suddenly homebound amateurs started mixing
flour and water.

Traffic to her Saveur
Blog Award–winning tripled during the spring lockdown, setting
off a chain reaction that led to the December publication of Sourdough Every
Day: Your Guide to Using Active and Discard Starter for Artisan Bread, Rolls,
Pasta, Sweets, and More
(Page Street Publishing, 176 pages, $21.99). 

The cookbook
aisles groan with sourdough titles—Amazon lists more than 700—but Dela Cruz has
managed the rare feat of adding something genuinely fresh and useful to an
overloaded category: no other cookbook, in the awareness of this
sourdough-tending reviewer, explicitly focuses on uses for the discard that is
part and parcel of starter maintenance. (The yeast in a starter culture require
regular feeding, which is done by discarding a portion of the starter and
replacing it with flour and water.) These discard recipes are what distinguish
Dela Cruz’s first cookbook.

Photo of sourdough pancakes

My favorites
were for pastas. Sourdough discard imparts a subtle or distinct tang (depending
on how long it rests in the fridge) to fettuccine-cut egg noodles—a flavor
element that proved an especially welcome foil to the slightly sweet
beet-and-goat-cheese ravioli I make for Christmas dinner. Recipes for ramen
noodles, gyoza wrappers, and pierogis apply the same principle. Elsewhere, Dela
Cruz gives the discard treatment to recipes running a multiculti gamut from
paratha-style scallion pancakes to focaccia di Recco,
rosewater-cardamom-pistachio biscotti to traditional zucchini bread, and Liège
waffles to Moroccan-inflected chicken empanadas.  There is much to try.

The author’s fresh memory of her own amateur days is also apparent in the
more traditional sections devoted to active starter. To take one example, her
advice to rub proofing-basket cloths with rice flour—whose lack of gluten
minimizes sticking—made me wonder why on earth the New York Times
otherwise excellent sourdough bread recipe advocates a 50-50 blend of rice and
wheat flour.

So for
adventurous beginners looking for an approachable guide to sourdough basics, or
home bakers who’ve spent the pandemic wondering what to do with all that
discard, this is a worthy addition to the kitchen shelf. —TP

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